Time marches on, and some fabulous friends who have become runners

I have completed cycle #5, treatment number 15 of chemotherapy. I am really happy about that. My official end of treatment date is June 16, 2014. I have three treatments left following an off week this week.

I continue to run, or run/walk. On Monday, Steve and I ran before treatment. We have taken a picture every week except once when we were running behind schedule and we forgot. I used to be one of those women who hid from the camera, but now I want pictures. I want to preserve the memories both for myself and for my family. I hope my female friends are paying attention when I tell them to take pictures of themselves or have others take them. Years from now, your family won’t care if you had on make up or nice clothing. They will appreciate that you left them with proof of your existence. You don’t have to be perfect. Just show who you really are. Some day, your kids will be thankful you did.

We took a pathetic and ridiculous selfie at chemo to send to our teenaged daughter. I kept it because it makes me smile.

I had minimal nausea this week, which was wonderful. I ran or ran/walked every day again this week. Most of the week, however, I was experiencing widespread muscle and joint pain. On Thursday, I was hurting so badly that I only left the house when It was really necessary. Somehow we made it through the week. I am looking forward to not having chemo this week, although a part of me wishes I could just knock out the final treatments NOW and be done with it.

This was graduation week for schools in our district. The weekend was filled with parties, all of which were a lot of fun. I cannot help but feel a bit of melancholy as I look at my own kids. When they were little, I had moments where I thought they were going to be little and dependent forever. Now, time is moving way too quickly. My older daughter is finishing up her sophomore year and I know her graduation will be here before we know it. Somewhere along the way, my teenaged daughter because more than just a daughter to me. She also became my friend. I know parents are not “supposed” to be friends with their kids. I think that transition comes along at different points in every parent-child relationship. For ours, I believe it really came about this year. My daughter has always had a good head on her shoulders, but this year has changed us all dramatically. We appreciate each other more. I enjoy her company because she is introspective, intelligent, and thoughtful. I know when the day comes, I will celebrate her graduation and be excited and happy for her. But I am dreading the day she leaves home. For now, I will hang on to the chance I get every morning and every night to say, “I love you”. I will hold close the conversations we have when driving somewhere together, or over breakfast. When she was five, she used to tell me that she and her future husband would live with me forever. I know that time has passed, but I hope she always stays close to me.

I have to mention some special runners this week. A while back, my friend Susan lost 50 pounds. She and another friend, Kathy, decided to start a “couch to 5k” program. Susan lives on the west coast and Kathy on the east coast. Throughout their weeks of training, we all exchanged emails. I looked forward to hearing about their progress and I tried to help provide some guidance when problems arose. I am so proud to report that both of these terrific and tenacious women completed their respective programs. This past weekend, Susan ran her first official 5k race, wearing the “team Tonia” pancreatic cancer awareness shirt that is currently traveling around the country for runners to wear during races. Ironically, Tim, who created and wore the shirt at the Boston marathon, just happened to be running the marathon that accompanied Susan’s 5k. They were able to meet and snap a picture together after Tim finished his race. 

My friend, Lynn, was one of my closest friends growing up in upstate NY. We lost touch for many years, and found each other through the magic of the Internet. Lynn lives on the west coast these days. She has had her own serious battles with health issues. We have talked many times about how discouraging life can become when you do not feel well long term. Lynn joined a running group in her area and has now completed several races up to and including the half marathon distance. This weekend she ran her first trail race. She was successful, and had a great time despite falling and scraping up her shoulder and chin pretty badly. I am proud of her because she has faced significant challenges and obstacles, and yet she still maintains a positive attitude. Now, she sees herself as a real runner and that is pretty darned cool!

I am proud of these three ladies. They have all overcome challenges of their own. This has not been an easy journey for any of them, but they have made a commitment to their own physical and emotional well being through sticking to an exercise/running program. Their determination shows that it is never too late in life to become a runner. I am glad to know that our communications via Facebook, email and/or phone calls has helped them tough it out over the last few months. Once again, the supportive nature of runners and the running community makes me proud. I love how my running friends, some of whom have never met, are able to cheer each other on and celebrate one another’s success.

Now onward to the last few days of school and my last few weeks of chemotherapy.

Milestones

This is a weekend of milestones. Today, Sunday may 18th marks six months since I had surgery. On that date, my surgeon removed half of my pancreas, my spleen and a bunch of lymph nodes.

 

This photo was taken November 22 while I was still in the hospital. 

 

 

Here is how my stomach looks six months later. 

 

I am pretty pleased with how it has turned out so far. I am not nor have I ever been ashamed of my scar. It will always serve as a reminder of how far I have come through this process. 

 

Tomorrow will be my 15th chemo session. I then will take a week off and have one cycle left. Four treatments over the next five Mondays. June 16th is set to be my last day of chemo. These last four treatments will not be fun, but I can see the finish line off in the distance.

 

The cumulative effects of treatment seem to be catching up to me. I feel more tired and nauseous than I did early on. I had treatment on Monday of this past week. It had snowed Sunday night and into Monday. My husband and I did our traditional pre chemo run, but because our school district was on a two hour delay, we had to cut it to 9 miles instead of 10. Colorado in May:

 

 

 

 

Tuesday morning, I went for a run after a meeting. I was tired and it was walk/run. I went by myself, which allowed me to just go at my own easy pace and not worry about holding other people back. I thought maybe this would be an easier week physically because I did not feel too badly on Tuesday. 

 

On Wednesday, however, my body decided to fight back a bit. I had met Tracey and her dog Arlo for a run. It’s a good thing Tracey is not squeamish because part way through our run, I started dry heaving. Every mile or so, I would have to stop, try to throw up, and then we would continue on our way. Puking while running is not the norm for me. Even during the Vermont 100, I never got sick. I always thought I had an iron stomach but apparently I do not right now. Hopefully that will change after June!

 

I continued to get sick Wednesday afternoon and evening. I went to bed hoping to start fresh on Thursday, but I woke up at 2 am with muscles aches. I never got back to sleep again that night. Thursday morning, I ran with my husband and my friend Debby. I was in a fog the whole time and when we finished, a lot of the run seemed hazy. 

 

On Friday, I met up with Vanessa and her husband Andy for an 8 mile run. I have run with Vanessa before but this was my first time meeting Andy. I really enjoy meeting runner couples, and I appreciate that they included me on their running date. 

 

Yesterday Stephen and I went for a walk/run around the Garden of the Gods. I had planned about an 8 mile run, but I just bonked and ended up hiking quite a bit. It was a beautiful morning, though, and if you are going to be slow, it might as well be in a spectacular location.

 

Through all of the week’s ups and downs, life has gone on. I had to rush my dog to the veterinarian on Tuesday. She is ok but gave me another scare.

 

On Friday, my youngest went off for a weekend of camping with the Girl Scouts. My oldest went to a formal with her boyfriend. 

 

I am signed up for a walk/run to raise money for pancreatic cancer (Pancreatic action network purple stride). This takes place the weekend after I finish chemo. A high school friend, named Kerry, teaches second grade in Texas. On Saturday, I got a donation along with this sweet letter. It says, in part, “We decided to donate our money this week to you, instead of buying snacks at school. It’s not much but we hope it helps.” Don’t ever doubt the heart of the upcoming generation. There are so many kind and compassionate young people out there. 

 

 

Today, my husband and I will run. Tomorrow I will complete cycle 5. Just like in any long race, marking off milestones, is important mentally. It helps me to focus on how far I have come and how much closer I am to finishing. If you think about running 100 miles in one big chunk, that seems really overwhelming. If you break it down, aid station to aid station, that helps make it seem more manageable. When I started this process back in September with various tests, and then surgery and them chemotherapy, it seems like a ridiculously long process. I have been marking off time by counting down treatments and cycles, and that has made a huge difference in my outlook. What once seemed so far away is now coming close. Only a few more miles to go, and I will be done.

 

Treatment #13 knocked me down, but people pulled me back up.

Monday morning, my husband and I did what has become our standard pre chemo ten mile run. It was warm and sunny and beautiful. After facing months of treatments, chemo Mondays now seem to cause stress for both my husband and me. Since each week brings something different, the whole experience keeps me slightly off balance. I know Steve now worries going into Monday about how I will feel for the rest of the week. At the start of our run, I had butterflies in my stomach. I wanted to go home and crawl back into bed and hide out under the covers. By the end of our run, my stomach had settled down and I had regained that calm that I get from running.

Treatment went fine but nausea hit me shortly afterwards. Monday night I missed yet another landsharks meet. Tuesday brought some of the most intense nausea I have felt thus far. I felt like I was going to throw up all Tuesday afternoon and evening, and in fact, did get sick a few times that afternoon. I do not know if it is the fact that I am recovering from last weekends race at the Greenland 25k or if it is just the cumulative effects of chemo over months or both, but I felt so very tired all week.

This week has been marked by probably as much hiking and walking as running. I enjoy hiking, but I see myself as a runner not a hiker. Feeling like I am not capable of running on certain days makes me frustrated and honestly even sad. But I physically just had to slow down this week. Slowing down a bit gave me the gift of spending time with both a long time friend and with a new friend who I enjoyed getting to know better. Slowing down allowed me to visit new trails I have never been to and truly appreciate the scenery. I also got to enjoy the beauty of one of my favorite trails more fully because I was not staring at the ground the whole time the way I typically do when I am running something technical.

I had two days this week where I felt like I was actually able to run my planned mileage. One of those runs I had arranged to meet a friend. For another, I had planned to run alone and happened to meet up with one of my regular running partners in the trailhead parking lot. Right now I am really enjoying company on my runs. Somehow through this whole process, I have continued to meet and make new friends and deepen existing relationships through time spent out on the trails together.  It is remarkable to me. Some people get overwhelmed and frightened by an illness and yet there are so many people in the running community who have embraced me during this really difficult period in my life.

As a runner, I know I have been told after a race in which I ran well, “You are amazing!” While I appreciate the compliment, of course, I never quite understand the wording. More accurately, maybe running a specific time or distance is what we find “amazing”. No one is “amazing” just because they run fast or far. That being said, I think that there are a whole lot of “amazing” people who also happen to run. Theses people are amazing not because of their running, but because of their kind, caring, compassionate nature. There is a big collective heart among many of the runners I have had the pleasure of meeting. That I continue to derive my emotional support from other runners, even on days when I can no longer run, is what I find amazing.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I am not one for pomp and circumstance, but right now every day has taken on a new significance. Illness brings an intensity to every day circumstances. Every moment becomes important because you no longer have the luxury of believing you have an unlimited number of those moments left. I still do not want a fuss made over me. I often tell my family that I do not want presents. I do not want flowers or jewelry. I have always been a person who treasures simplicity and the gift of time. Yesterday I went for a run with my husband in the snowstorm. I told him that there weren’t too many men who would have been willing to run and walk when I needed to walk these days, especially in driving wind and snow. Despite my circumstances, I know how “lucky” I am. Our family spent the rest of the day snuggled inside of our house. My teenage daughter baked. My husband grilled salmon in the snow because that is what I had requested. We watched a movie together and then had cake.

Riley gave me this present.

It was a jar with phrases she had taken from things I have written. On some of the slips of paper she had written snippets of my own writing and in some she added her own thoughts. As parents we try to give our kids the wisdom that comes with age and life experience. We do not always know if our kids are listening or absorbing what we say. Knowing my daughter has been reading, listening and hopefully tailoring my advice to her own life circumstances means more than anything to me. We want to know we are making an impact on our kids, even if it appears that they are not listening to us. I appreciate my daughter being willing to listen and hear me, as I hope she feels that I have listened and really heard her over the years.

On a run this week, I asked a friend how he and his wife had gotten through a particularly difficult chapter of their lives. He said, “It is really simple. We just loved each other so much”. This simple but powerful thought has stuck with me all week. That is exactly how my family will get through our current obstacle: by just continuing to love each other so much. Tough circumstances can either tear families apart or bring them together. I know that in our home, and in our lives, there is more than enough love to carry us through this time. I want my daughters to always remember how much I have loved them and to lean on that knowledge to get through whatever life throws their way. No matter what happens in the future, no matter where life takes us, my love will always be with them.

Week off chemo and the Greenland Trail 25k

I have been extremely tired and breathless during my runs lately. In fact, over last weekend, I had been in such sorry condition that I said to my husband, “I wonder if I will EVER feel like I used to feel. What if this is all I’ve got going forward?” My friends are all getting in better shape as they train for upcoming race, and right now I am always the slowest one in the group. While I understand what is going on with my body, I would be lying if I said it never bothered or concerned me.

I was off from chemotherapy this week. On Monday, I met a girlfriend of mine for some “trail therapy”. We ran ten miles together. We have a very therapeutic talk along the way and I felt the best I had on a run in at least a few weeks. When I got home, I was feeling practically giddy about how I did not feel completely miserable on my run. I thought, “Wow, that run did not completely suck for me! Maybe I will sign up for the Greenland 25k this weekend!”

I ran the Greenland 50k one time several years ago. I finished as fourth female overall that year in 4:50 and change. I normally prefer to go with the longest distance available at any given race. Since I have not run anything longer than 16 miles since prior to my surgery in November. I knew the 50k would be out of the question. But I thought, “I can finish the 25k.” I signed my husband and myself up for the 25k. I had trouble falling asleep that night because I was so excited about the prospect of getting out to run a race.

Tuesday morning, I got up and went out for a 6-7 mile run. I was tired. I was back to feeling breathless. The wind was sucking the enthusiasm out of me. I probably ran around half of what I set out to do that day and walked the rest. Doubts started to creep in. What the hell was I thinking signing up for a race? Suddenly 25k seemed like a very long way to go. I had no idea what would happen on Saturday. I assumed I would walk some of the one longest uphill on the course when I signed up just because of my breathlessness. I did not want to end up walking the entire course, though. There is nothing wrong with walking, of course, but I just do not have the patience to walk 15.5 miles.

On Wednesday, I ran with two of my friends. We set out for an “easy” run and yet I found myself behind and working much too hard. When I got home, I started looking up times from last year’s 25k to see what the slowest finish times were so I could plan race day accordingly. I was really honestly wondering if I was going to be walking most or all of the race.

On Thursday, I met up with a friend who was tapering for a marathon in California. We had planned a short run and I still felt tired and slow but otherwise alright. On Friday I squeezed in a short run around my neighborhood prior to my oncology appointment. My mind was on overdrive due to having one kid out of school, one kid with an injury and a sick dog. I thought, “WHY did I sign up for a race? Why did I add additional stress and pressure to my life right now?”

All week long I had been telling Steve that he did not have to run with me. He could go out hard and see what he was capable of and I would not be upset. Steve said he wanted to run with me. While I love running with my husband, I was worried about holding him back too much or about pushing myself too hard to keep up with him.

I had no idea what would happen during the race. Would I run the whole thing? Would I walk every uphill? Would I really suffer and end up walking most of it? What ended up happening was that I ran the entire first loop and then walked for maybe a minute total on the second loop. I actually felt dizzy at times on the course. I was out of breath on the uphills. I was not able to recover from the uphills like I normally would. But, in part because of the extra days off from chemo, and in part because I love competition, I found a way to start pushing myself. I have been running but not “training” during my treatment. I have done no speed workouts. I have done no hill repeats. My running now had lots of walking mixed in. And yet, during the race. I kept looking forward thinking, “I know it hurts but run to that tree and then if you need to walk, you can”. I found that I could keep running beyond each spot I had selected, and then onto the next one, and then the next.

 As we went out on the second loop, I started to focus on my competition, “If I keep going, I can pass that person in front of me.”  The race was first with just myself, and then finally it became with the other runners. I knew I was not going to be one of the very top females, but I knew I was going to end up in a much better place than I thought I would initially. According to the unofficial race results, my husband and I finished in 2:28:56. I was 8th out of 55 in my age group in 42 out of 183 female runners. While this was a slower pace than I had run in the 50k, I am thrilled with my finish time and my place. I worked my butt off on Saturday. I pushed myself very hard, and ran as hard as I could have on that day. Running well when I have trained hard is very gratifying. Running as hard as I did four months into chemotherapy and less than six months after having internal organs cut out, makes me happy and proud of myself. I did not win. I did not place in my age group, but a I absolutely worked as hard as I could out on the course. While someone who does not know may look at my placing and time on Saturday and think nothing of it, I take pride in how I did because I know the circumstances leading up to the race.

Here is a post race photo of my husband and me. He said he would start and finish with me, and that is what he did.

This week, I want my daughters to remember that in life it is always important to give your best, no matter what that might mean on any given day. What that best effort translates into is going to vary depending on your life circumstances. Sometimes your best will be “the best” and other people will congratulate you and acknowledge your achievements. Other times, your best efforts may not seem that impressive to other people. But, if you have given 100% of yourself, and you know you have worked as hard as you possibly could, you should never be disappointed in yourself. Not disappointing yourself is far more important than any accolades you may receive from other people.